CDT: Cuba to Grants

10/3: 22 mi (2357.6 – 2379.6)

With the day expected to be fairly warm and without shade, we got up fairly early. While it was still dark, we ate our breakfast with our headlamps’ red light illuminating our Jumbo HoneyBun and coffee. Our tent and bags were somewhat damp, and we were equally surprised by the condensation that accumulated on our tent’s fly. We assumed it had to do with the dampness of the sand from the several days of record-breaking precipitation.

With headlights glowing we made our down-hill from the mesa in semi-darkness. This required careful footing as we made our way down the loose and crumbly sandstone trail.

The walking today was fairly straightforward. New Mexico had now transformed into what we had “expected” for most of the state. There was no mistaking that we were in a desert landscape. Most of the day was spent over flat terrain and dirt roads. Paul and Jan had “jetted” ahead, as they are infinitely faster at the walking thing, and frankly unconsciously competitive (a guy “thing”). While Jan has to see and/or experience a western rattlesnake, I on the other hand saw two along my solitary road walk.

Gopher snake

While one of the snakes turned out to be just a gopher snake, the other was in-fact a rattler, albeit a small one. The little bugger even tried to strike at me when I tried to take its picture.

Zoom in to see him winding up to strike

Even with an evidentiary picture, Jan still refused to believe rattlesnakes “exist”. He likens them to Sasquatch, and the Lochness Monster, as he has yet to see one for himself.

Jones Canyon Spring

With the exception of the spring and trough pictured above, all other water “opportunities” along our route were in less than desirable watering holes/ponds. This led to a heavy water carry and disciplined hydration for most of the day. And , while we do our best to NOT rely on caches, we were hoping that the historically maintained cache at mile 2376.4 (SOBO) was partially, if not fully stocked. Or, it was back to the pea soup green “pond”, a mile or so behind us. Thus, had Hue and Krystal Trajejo elected to forego updating the water cache they regularly maintain to celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary, we would have been severely shit out of luck, and enormously thirsty!

Krystal and Hue refilling the cache

Just as we arrived to the empty cache, and we’re pondering our options, Hue, Krystal and three of their kids arrived to save the day. Krystal told me that they have been maintaining this cache since 2015. It started out as mostly for the NOBO hikers. But, since the number of SOBOs has increased, they have expanded their restocking window.

We spent well over an hour talking with Hue and Krystal. They told us that it was a treat for them to get to talk with actual thru-hikers, especially SOBOs. More often than not, they arrive to refill the cache and no one is there. They are remarkable people and true Angels in every sense of the word. They have hosted hikers at their home, and even allowed them use of their vehicle to run errands. Most endearing though, is that they have welcomed into their home, and cared for over 65 “Foster kids”, adopting (I believe) 6 of them. What wonderful people. And to insert taking the time to refill the water cache on their wedding anniversary, was for us, an absolute blessing.

With full bladders and water bottles, we continued down the trail. We walked until the light started to dim and a great campsite with soft flat ground, and NO pokey plants, appeared before us. We would have been silly to have continued on.

Our sunset was amazing, as was the day. New Mexico, we still find you endearing.

10/4: 25.2 mi (2379.6 – 2403.8)

Today the terrain changed up once again.

Down from our campsite we descended and over and across “classic” desert landscape we traversed, until we came to a silty river that required crossing.

The river edges and its bottom were comprised of silty slick mud that immediately caked upon our shoes as we approached the water’s edge. Before crossing, we removed our shoes so as not to lose them in the muck, and to keep them as “clean” as we could. The water was icy cold and felt good on our heat swollen (and worn out) feet. It took us quite a while to clean the muddy residue from our feet before we continued on to a water source that was not so silty.

We lunched at a spring that had cool, clear water, and used the cattle corral gates for “shade”. After lunch, we had yet another climb out of desert terrain and back up into a high alpine forest.

As we climbed, we would peer back periodically and marvel at where we had come from and the breath of terrain we had covered.

The evening found us camped on a road spur with 23 miles to the next reliable water source.

10/5: 26 mi (2403.8 – 2428.5 + “bonus mile”)

Not gonna lie. I got a horrible night sleep. I was definitely over-tired from the previous day. My shins were complaining, and calves were cramping. Over-night the temperature dropped dramatically, and required us to zip our bags together to retain heat. Getting up and out of the tent during the wee hours of the night to pee found our fly somewhat crusted with ice crystals.

Still, we got up at our prearranged time of 0430 am and at 0530am were back on trail, walking in the dark…shivering. Because we had 23 miles till the next water, and because of how horribly worked I was, we needed to get an early start to avoid as much of the heat of the day as we could.

We made 10 miles by 9am, and 15 miles by noon. In between that time we met Cathie and Josh’s daughter, “Happy Dance”. Being quite younger and obviously faster hikers than us (me), they had no trouble catching up to us. We had a brief conversation and leap frogged each other for a good portion of the day.

When they say not to rely on water caches, they are absolutely right. We are however, supremely grateful when we do come across them. Today, not a water cache that had been “labeled” as “current” in Guthook (FarOut) was correct. Hence, why one should never count on them. Not a single cache was to be found. Never to fear, trail magic appeared. As the boys had “sprinted” ahead of me once more, I had the absolute fortune of being the recipient of trail magic. A hunter heading back to his campsite pulled up behind me in his truck. He asked if I was okay, and if I needed anything. Water? Snack? Yes to both, was my reply. Triumphant in my good fortune, I continued on making sure I did not miss my turn-off from the road and back onto single track, as the redline dictated. When I reached our prearranged lunch spot, the boys were nowhere to be found. WTF? Surely, they wouldn’t have continued on without me?! I searched for their footprints. None to be found. I could only assume that they missed the turn. I would have messaged them via the Garmin, but our InReach was still attached to the back of Paul’s pack. So, I settled down to wait. No use going any further, and if worse came to worse, I would head to the elk hunter’s camp that I had passed and ask for help, or at least more water and hopefully a hot meal.

With a plan solidly in my head, I heard a shout and then a whistle. They boys were walking briskly, if not running, in my direction. “Where were you? How long have you been here?”, they asked excitedly. ‘Um, remember, I was way behind you guys that’s why I was surprised when you weren’t here’, I responded. I explained how they had quickly disappeared from my sight, and how I decided that I would just go to our predetermined lunch spot at my own pace, and that they were just going to have to wait. They explained how they had become worried, when they got to the highway and then realized that they had missed a turn. They didn’t know whether to “divide and conquer” or backtrack fully to where they missed the turn. Luckily, they had run into the same hunter that supplied me with trail magic, and he told them where and when he had last seen me. They, however got a beer, while I only got water and a couple snacks. Go figure. Reunited, we ate our lunch and spread out our gear, yard sale fashion, to dry.

It was 4 pm by the time we made it to the spring. The one that had been 23 miles away this morning. But not before having to do a “surprise” climb, that for some reason, we had not noticed on our maps. With another bout of predicted and severe weather approaching, we watered up and opted out of climbing Mt. Taylor (11,307 ft).

We drank until we couldn’t drink anymore and then filled our bottles. All the while, dark and foreboding clouds formed overhead and the temperature rapidly began to dip. We found a convoluted route that would skip the climb and more importantly, keep us at a lower elevation and out of the coming freezing rain, if not the snow. If successful, we would walk into Grants by noon the next day.

We, in fact were pining for Grants, as we were supremely hungry. We all agreed that we had done a poor job of packing enough snacks and remarked how hard it was each night NOT to consume the entire contents of our respective food bags.

Our convoluted route dropped us onto another forest road, where we eventually found a place to camp, just as the rain started to fall.

10/6: 18.2 mi

Up and early once again. The ground was wetted out, and so were our tents for the most part. I had rained hard ALL night, and had been extremely cold. Even Jan complained about how bitter cold it had been. Collectively, we were thankful for our decision to get to lower elevation. There was no mistaking that it had most likely snowed above us, it was that cold. In the early morning dark, we set off.

Headlamps leading the way. The wrong way actually! In our haste to get going, we failed to orient ourselves properly in the dark and proceeded to “back track” nearly 2 miles. Shit! Three’s a charm, they say. Once properly oriented and actually much warmer, having the now 4 mile “warm up” completed, we were on our way to Grants.

It was a road walk, but not a brutal one. I think the fact we were headed to town and more importantly town food, that any achiness was shoved aside from our brains. Along the way we passed a campground, where we stopped and ate the remaining contents of our food bags and drank what was left of our coffee.

We also passed a prison with signs warning drivers to not pick up hitchhikers, so hitching the remaining mile into Cuba was not even a consideration. Along the route, finding an appropriate place to pee became a bit of a challenge for me and my “old lady” bladder. Because of the lingering issues of COVID, public and business restrooms are most closed, so before I wet my shorts, I had to find a discreet place to relieve myself. It was quite comical.

Into Grants, proper. We gorged on Mexican food, and bought a mountain of snacks and chocolate milk at the Smith’s Market as we waited for the town’s free shuttle to pick us up and take us to our rooms at the Super 8.

While I would have liked to have taken a zero, I was over-ruled by the boys. We’ll zero at Pie Town was the response.

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CDT: Alburquerque and much needed Zeros

9/30 – 10/1

Masked up for the train ride

With rooms booked in Albuquerque within miles of the REI, we headed to McDonalds to wait for the bus, and to eat(again)…of course. Three buses later, a train ride that cost us $6 and another bus, we were within walking distance (.1 mi) of the REI.

Reeking like true hiker trash, we wafted through the doors of REI, intent on new shoes (for all of us), inserts and a new air mat for Paul. Remarkably, we got some rather odd looks from the patrons and employees while in the REI. They seemed rather clueless about the CDT, and tried to “upsell” us other footwear and gear. The concept that we had already completed over 2,000 miles and knew what we wanted and needed didn’t seem to resonate.

Having completed our purchases, it was time to get a ride to our hotel. The thought of walking the 3 miles to the hotel did not seem that appealing. Luckily Lyft had returned to Alburquerque, so I “dialed” up a ride. It would be a 20 minute wait, but it was still better than walking. As we stood waiting in full hiker trash fashion, a couple approached us (Cathie and Josh) and asked us where we were headed. Mexico, we responded in unison. Unfazed, they replied, “Oh, you’re doing the CDT. Our daughter is doing the CDT and she’s almost to Cuba”. We laughed at the coincidence, replying, “That’s where we just came from.” We then explained that the hotels were all full in Cuba due to the weather event they were having, and that we were going to Zero in Alburquerque. What followed after that was pure and simple Divine Intervention.

Josh and Cathie asked us if we needed a ride to our hotel. We jumped at the offer and immediately cancelled the Lyft. They asked us how we got to Alburquerque and how we plan to get back to the trail. We explained our bus and train route, and how we planned to use it in reverse on Saturday. Now this is when they offered to pick us up Saturday and give us a ride back to Cuba. Their daughter “Happy Dance” was set to get into Cuba that Saturday. This, Cathie said, would give her an “excuse” to meet up with her daughter on trail. Their offer for a ride was most fortuitous, as we would later discover that not a single leg of the public transit system we had used, was going to be operating, and/or would NOT get us anywhere near Cuba. That left a hitch, or a seriously expensive Lyft ride as our options.

More than ecstatic, we exited their car, apologizing profusely for our stench and thanking them graciously for the ride. They would contact us the following day as to what time they (Cathie) would be picking us up for our ride to back to Cuba.

When we checked into our hotel, we discovered that we (Jan) had gotten the last available rooms in Alburquerque. It seems that we arrived just in time for the start of the annual (and world famous) Alburquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This event has been on our bucket list for quite some time. And, as it turned out, the balloons were “stationed” not far from our hotel.

And with that, we began our 4th zero of the trail. A shower, laundry and a short walk to fresh food and beer were in order.

10/1: 5 mi

Ideally, we would have preferred to not have accrued any mileage, but it just seemed silly to spend money to walk the 1.5 miles to the grocery store, the half mile to the brewery, and the mile to the pizza place. With regard to the grocery store, and in hindsight, we should have gotten a ride back. Or, at least worn our packs in order to carry the excess of food we bought for our resupply that would take us to Grants. And, the assortment of “fresh” food we purchased in an effort to satiate the bottomless pits that were our stomachs.

10/2: 6.7 mi (2350.9 – 2357.6)

Breakfast found us and our hotel surrounded by a plethora of colorful balloons.

549 hot air balloons to be exact, slowly floated above and near our hotel. One even “crash landed” in a lot next to the hotel.

What a treat for us, and especially for Jan who had heard about this fabled event but never expected to ever have an opportunity to witness this in real-life.

Near 1 pm, Cathie picked us up. A quick stop at the REI was in order. Cathie had to pick up some shoes for her son-in-law, and as it turned out, we needed to return the new air mattress Paul had purchased as he was able to find and repair the leaks to his old one.

Assuming correctly, Cathie asked us if we were hungry. When are we not? Our next stop was Sonic, for what would be the largest shake, the lot of us had ever consumed! We figured that we had to have consumed the equivalent of a half-gallon of ice cream. Best Shake EVER!

Our Angel Cathie

We talked throughout the drive about trail life and how we came to be hiking the CDT. The conversation was pleasant and in no time we arrived in Cuba. Rather than road walk out of Cuba and have to pay attention to traffic, Cathie graciously dropped us at where Hwy 197 and the CDT intersect.

It was around 4pm, so we decided to hike a few miles with the daylight we had left. We hiked till 6:30 pm and were treated to a marvelous sunset and clear skies atop a sandy red soil mesa.

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CDT: Don Pedro Parks Wilderness…and a Reunion!

9/29: 18.6 mi (2315.8 – 2334.4)

Did you say there was a climb today? Why of course there is! 3,500 feet to be exact up to 10,500 ft of elevation. New Mexico you are a tricky state.

You placate us with your diversity and abject beauty, so we will gladly climb, just to see what more you have to show us. And show us you did.

Today we entered the Don Pedro Parks Wilderness and man is this place AMAZING! So far this stretch has been the most beautiful part of New Mexico and makes one of the top four places we have walked through on the CDT. Mountains. Meadows. Springs. Healthy forest, plant and animal life. Tread that is pleasant and easy so you don’t have to constantly watch your feet, but can actually take in ALL the surrounding beauty.

With the exception of being rained and hailed on, it was a near perfect day. Hell it WAS a perfect day, because as we were getting water near the San Gregorio Reservoir, who should come around the corner, but our friend Jan (SheepGoat). Last we saw him was just before the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  He had hiked like a madman to catch up to us. It was because of the fires near the Idaho/Montana border and the “Butte Cut-off” alternate route that he was able to mitigate the miles we had done last year. He also is a bad-ass and stomped out multiple days in excess of 30+ miles with no days off, just to catch us. I guess we could have slowed down a bit…more, but then where’s the challenge in that?

No camping is allowed by the reservior. Besides, it would have been entirely to damp and cold.

If we could have camped next to the reservoir, we would have. We had a lot of catching up to do. We walked and talked till we found a place to pitch our tents. We talked and laughed some more until it was just too damn cold to sit outside. Tomorrow we would walk into Cuba, and take at least two zeros for much needed rest and to sit out the dangerous storm that was to land mid morning and cause dangerous flooding.

9/30: 12.2 mi (2334.4 – 2346.6)

Today we head into Cuba for resupply and at least one Zero…if not two. We tried in earnest to call and get a room, but no one seemed to be picking up their phones at 8am.

We descended 3,600 ft down into Cuba, just as the dark body of moisture filled clouds moved in. It was a good day to be headed into town. The road walk however, just killed our feet. I think its time for new shoes. Hopefully we can last till Grants, as we were too late to order and have shoes sent to Cuba.

When we got into Cuba we sadly discovered that ALL the hotel/motels in Cuba were full. CDT hikers that already had rooms were extending their stays, and wait out the worst of the storm. We ducked into the Cuban Cafe, just as skies let loose and the deluge began. For the next two days it would be too rainy to walk safely in the high desert. Flash flood warnings are to be taken seriously.

Whilst over second breakfast, and almost a “third” one, we collectively hatched a plan that involved new shoes, and hotel rooms. The closest place for new shoes, was the REI in Alburquerque. Hmm, how to get there? And more importantly, are there rooms available?

Our first thought was to see if we could hitch to Alburquerque, but that most likely would have been a bust as the rain was relentless. Who wants to pick up drowned rats? Then we discovered the New Mexico transit system. Totally free and totally amazing!

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Ghost Ranch Alternate

9/27: 17.9 mi (24.8 – 6.9)

The weather that threatened us the day previous finally caught up to us. We awoke to damp ground and a wet rain fly. Turkeys strutted by us, and elk bugled in the distance as we packed up. Today we would descend down to Ghost Ranch, a privately held 21,000 acre collection of multicolored cliffs, deep canyons, mesas, streams and grass lands. The Ranch was part of a 1766 “land grant” given to Pedro Martin Serrano, by the Governor of the New Mexico territory. 170 years later (1936), Arthur Pack, a wealthy naturalist would buy the Ranch and later donate, it to the Presbyterian Church in 1955. In 2018, the Ranch was added to the National Register of Historic Places. An assortment of movies and famous people have accessed and visited this interesting acreage, to include CDT thru-hikers.

Our Ghost Ranch Alternate began with a dirt road path and devolved into a find and follow the carin adventure. Of course we missed a “turn” and walked a ways in the wrong direction, but then we are on the CDT and getting “lost” is a weekly, if not daily occurrence.

We traversed atop a tree covered mesa and just before our precarious descent into a narrow canyon, we got a view of the colorful cliffs that we were about to be immersed in.

The descent followed an old extremely eroded and rock strewn “road”. We were glad it was NOT raining, and can’t image having to hike this route in the rain, or immediately after a sustained rain event.

Eventually the terrain morphed into what I (we) had envisioned New Mexico to be like. Colorful striated sandstone layers of rock, sandy tread made up of loose rock, and all manner of pokey plants.

We were surprised by the narrow canyons and clear running water.

Walking into Ghost Ranch was somewhat surreal. A few people, with name tags dangling from their necks, wandered the outskirts of the property. For the most part, they generally paid us no mind, and took pictures of the oddest things. We tried to figure out the why and what of their pictures, but gave up, realizing that they were probably on a “retreat”, and on an “assignment” of sorts.

Because of COVID, and most likely to keep us nasty smelling CDT hikers segregated from the paying customers, the mess hall was not an option, even if you arrived prior to the appropriate meal times.

The Ghost Ranch Visitor’s Center, however, had graciously accepted our resupply package at no charge to us, and had plenty of snacks (to include ice cream) for us to munch on. They also allowed us to charge our electronics and refill our water bottles. It was a relaxed environment, and we felt “welcome”. The best part was that we didn’t feel the need to hurry about our “chores”. We talked at length with a recently married couple that had arrived a Ghost Ranch for a friend’s wedding. They had questions about our resupply, cook system, packs, electronics and basically everything related to long distance/multi-day back packing. We talked till it became time to pack up and finish our intended mileage for the day.

The route “out” of Ghost Ranch took us past colorful cliffs enhanced with an electric blue sky punctuated by growing storm clouds.

Pokey plants and two gathering storms flanked us as we walked. It was more than apparent that we were caught in the middle of two competing storms that were going to be electric.

It was a bit of a challenge to find a place to “safely” cross Hwy 84. We could see the paved road, but barbed wire and a maze of fencing and gates was harder than dodging the non-existent traffic.

From there, we hustled our way across and over two tall knolls and down to the improved dirt road (CR 151) that would take us to the Rio Chama, before calling it a day and hastily setting up our tent. While we would have liked to, and could have hiked further, it was time to hunker down and hopefully “ride out” these storms. We expected our Big Agnes TigerWall 2UL to be severely tested. We hoped, above all, to not be struck by lightning.

9/28: 21.7 mi (6.9 – 2315.8 CDT)

As predicted, it rained upon us fiercely. Flashes of lightning lit up the sky. On more than one occasion, the interior of our tent lit up like it was daylight. Streaks of lightning shot both horizontally and vertically in thick bolts all around us. The thunder boomed and shook us to our core. We had no option, but to ride it out and try to get some sleep. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. When our morning alarm went off, it was still raining, so back to sleep we went.

By 7 am the rain had mostly stopped, and by 7:25 we were on the road in full rain gear with covers over our packs. The temperature had dropped dramatically so our rain gear provided an additional layer of warmth/insulation.

We walked the red dirt road till we reached the bridge over the Rio Chama, and its intersection with the CDT “redline”. The Rio Chama was flowing vigorously from the rain, and was a silty baby-poop green from the storm run-off. Luckily we had enough water, and would be able to make it to a spring along the trail. This meant our water filter would live to see another day.

The trail narrowed into a single track after the crossing of the Rio Chama. It was an easy path to follow. But, because of the rain and the make up of the soil, the bottoms of our shoes (with annoying regularity) became caked with mud. We would scrape it off at every opportunity, as the weight of the mud and its feeling underfoot, felt like we were hiking in high heels.

Along the way we saw fresh mountain lion and bear tracks within the trail. No worries. Our heads were already on a swivel taking in the surrounding beauty, now we’ll add looking for predators.

While on our lunch break, having ascended into forest yet again, we had the pleasure of talking with a US Forest Service Ranger. She was doing a trail maintenance survey (whilst running the trail) for a trail crew that was supposed to be working on the CDT the following week. She told us that we were headed for one of the “jewels” of New Mexico, the Don Pedro Parks Wilderness.

As we continued to climb, up an over 11,000 ft once again, it began to rain. This made our uphill trek quite difficult.

It was highly annoying and often comical as the tread became slick and cakey once again. Many a step would sink unexpectedly into a gooey mess that would threaten to suck our shoes off our feet.

By the time we reached our watering hole, the rain had stopped. Mud still was the norm, but at least we could dry out our tent. While there, elk were bugling nearby.

Once back on trail we attempted to follow the bugling and see if we couldn’t catch a glimpse of the bugler, but to no avail.

As with all trails and days on the CDT, what goes up, must come down. And, unlike most days, our last 2 miles of the day were downhill.

Seriously downhill. Jagged and shifting rocks, and often mud the consistency and slickness of moose snot, was our tread. All this was coupled with dark and foreboding clouds overhead. Just a run of the mill day on the brutiful CDT. After crossing Hwy 96 we climbed briefly, yet again. Just as the light was fading into the darkness of the coming night, we found and cleared a flat place to camp not far from the trail. Barking dogs and yowling coyotes accented the evening as we, sufficiently exhausted, nodded off to sleep.

Earlier in the day we had received a message on our Garmin. Jan (Sheep Goat) was closing in on us. A reunion is in sight. With any luck, it will be tomorrow.

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CDT: Chama to Ghost Ranch Alternate

9/23: 16.3 mi (Hwy 17 2195.3 – 2211.8)

Before heading back onto the trail, we made sure that we got up early enough to have yet another GIANT and supremely tasty cinnamon roll at Fiona’s, that we paired with bottomless and equally good mugs of coffee.

The guys at The Hotel Shops kinda flaked and failed to provide a ride back to trail as we had arranged with them the day before. So, Terri and Kip stepped up. Together they drove us back up to Cumbres Pass, leaving their motel unattended. “It’s not like it’s gonna go away”, Terri joked as she hopped into their truck.

Once unloaded, we trekked uphill for our last 3 miles in Colorado.

Just prior to the state’s border crossing we caught a glimpse of and heard the “chug” and whistle of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic steam-driven train making its way up toward the train station at Cumbres Pass.

Stepping out of Colorado and into New Mexico was not as eventful and/or cathartic as we imagined. In fact, the signage of border line between the two states was underwhelming, to say the least.

A tangle of barbwire and license plates on a decaying post stood as an afterthought. If one was not looking for and/or was unaware of the “seam” between states, one would most likely continue without notice of the significance.

Colorado/New Mexico border

The day rolled by without much change in terrain or foliage. The grass was golden and dry.

The trees were perfectly shaped “Christmas” trees, cows were aplenty and water was scarce. We witnessed the most amazing thing however. Somehow we startled a cow in a grove of tall and fallen pines. The cow leapt uphill, over a fallen pine that was easily at the height of the cow’s shoulder, to make its “getaway”. Now that is one nimble and athletic cow, or should I say a highly motivated cow who associates humans with his probability of becoming a burger of some sort.

We descended into a valley that led to a plateau that we would ascend and traverse for the remainder of the day. There we would camp, and spend of first night in our last state on the CDT, New Mexico.

9/24: 20 mi (2211.8 – 2231.8)

The bugling of elk pierced the stillness of the night till the wee hours of the morning. And yet, we have still to see one “on trail”. We were fortunate to camp where we did for the night, as no available or acceptable places existed until we reached the US Forest Service Lagunitas Upper Campground.

It is within the confines of a particular cinder block US Forest Service bathroom that the unfortunate “ballad” of “Otter“, a late season CDT hiker was recorded. In short, he was found dead, in the Lower Lagunitas Campground restroom, inside his sleeping bag, having died from hypothermia exacerbated by starvation. This particular story is a “cautionary” tale for any and all who enter the wilderness. What I learned and also practice, is the following:

  • Listen to and obey that “inner voice”
  • Carry and keep in good working order an Emergency Locator and Communication Device. ie (Garmin InReach) Had Otter elected to “reallocate” his marijuana money to the continuance of his InReach subscription, I dare say he would not have died as a result of this particular prolonged weather event…just my humble and opinion, so don’t hate me for pointing out the obvious
  • Have additional Maps in which to locate/access “bail out” or emergency egress routes
  • Have and share your itinerary with people who WILL pay attention
  • Hike with a partner
  • Fight like hell to survive, even if it means that you’ll be “uncomfortable” and/or may not make it. At least you gave it beyond your best effort.

Okay enough pontification. Unlike Otter, the Lagunitas campground had particular fond memories for us, in the form of spectacular and unexpected Trail Magic. As we wandered toward the interior of the Upper Lagunitas Campground, looking for a place to take our 10am break, we came across two elk hunters that were in the process of packing up. In the nearby tree there hung “game bags”, that indicated to us that they had been successful. As avid hunters, we inquired as to their success, and of course the “story” that goes with such a hunt. They had filled their cow elk tag, and had a “missed” opportunity at a bull elk. In the process of telling their story, they offered us, water, snacks, an assortment of beer, and Mountain House meals.

Not wanting to be rude, we accepted their generosity. We even took a “road beer” to go.

The remainder of the day was relatively uneventful. The trail was good to moderate and the temperature was pleasant.

We wove through Aspen groves, wide open fields, along fence lines and past “extraordinary” cow ponds, where water filters go to “die”.

This made the fact that we had a relatively heavy water carry for most of the day, not so arduous. I will say however, that a 3 liter carry over a rolling ascent to 10,500 ft for our last 2 miles of the day was not helpful in keeping an increasingly and utterly painful case of shin splints to my left leg, at bay.

9/25: 21.6 mi (2231.8 – 2253.4)

After a healthy dose of “Vitamin I”, arnica oil massaged into the shin, and sleeping with a compression sleeve overnight, I awoke with no noticeable pain to my shin. Today would be spent wearing the compression sleeve and taking regular breaks, as opposed to pounding out the miles. Today would also require particular attention to water, in the form of hydration and carry, as there would be a long stretch without water toward the end of our intended day.

“Second Breakfast” with the wonderfully joyful Connie

Because of my shin splints, we had to effectively “pull back on the reins” today. This meant that we had the pleasure of meeting Connie from Taos as we entered the Hopewell Campground. While we were in the process of taking a break and filling our water bottles, Connie, who was camped with her dogs and horse, inquired as to what we were doing. We explained that we were hiking the Continental Divide Trail. Connie, who had just recently retired from teaching was “all ears”, and offered us a fresh brewed cup of coffee. Never ones to turn down a fresh cup of coffee, we removed our packs and settled in to what became a lengthy, but most pleasant break and conversation, as well as a “second breakfast”. I can say without question, it is the people one meets on these lengthy trails that transcend any terrain or vista.  Connie was certainly a most memorable encounter. I loved the fact that she had declared herself a “non-smoker” after decades of being one, and her adventurous, kind and loving spirit. I imagine she was one of those remarkable teachers that leaves a lasting, if not positive, “mark” on those lives she taught. She oozed joy and awe.

After our “second breakfast” that nearly transitioned into “lunch”, we pried ourselves away from Connie’s intoxicating joy and continued on.

As we pattered on, we jumped a small herd of deer, and both startled and were startled by… several grouse. Paul spied a cow elk, or so he claims, while I on the other hand neither saw nor heard said elk. An avenue of golden giants left us in awe and flanked us on either side of the trail, as weaved our way through the tallest and fattest grove of Apsens we have ever seen. And, as we have come to be reconciled with this trail, our last 2 miles were comically “uphill”, and littered with rocks that required our utmost attention. We set up camp on a knoll, hoping to catch wildlife sauntering by.

9/26: 20.1 mi (2253.4 – 2273.5)

Ever since we have entered New Mexico, we have been quite amazed and perplexed its terrain and sights. I think the “NOBOs” give New Mexico a “bad rap”. We were under the totally mistaken impression that New Mexico was mostly flat, devoid of water, and filled with all manner of pokey plants. This could NOT be further from the truth. In fact, of the four previous states we have trekked through on the CDT, New Mexico is turning out to be the most diverse, if not our favorite state.

Each day our preconceived notions of what to expect for the day are shattered…to our delight. Mountainous terrain filled with an amazing diversity of plant life, and spectacular vistas. Mesas, vast fields and valleys hosting cattle and a maze of forest roads. Lakes and streams, when you least expect them, all teaming with life. Daytime sounds that are quiet and serine, while night time is alive with movement and the drama of “courting” elk. And…Trail Magic that has been shockingly abundant. Today was no exception.

Again, the elk were quite robust in their banter till the wee hours of the morning. A giant bull elk stomped by our tent near midnight, but passed before we could clamor out of the tent to get a full view.  The morning found us following well used and often faint forest roads through golden fields, clusters of deep green pine and groves of turning aspens whose leaves of bright yellow littered the ground.

The trail emerged from a chokingly dense forest and flanked a wide ribbon valley whose “seam” down the middle oozed with  icy cool spring water. While on a break, a local on a section hike greeted us with her dog. She asked us how we liked New Mexico. We explained our amazement with New Mexico. She agreed wholeheartedly and then asked if we would ever consider hiking the CDT again. Without hesitation, I boldly replied, “Hell No!”. We all chuckled at my unconscious blurt. While we find the CDT quite challenging and totally worth the effort, it is a truly brutal trail that wears you down in one way or another. “Primitive and Challenging”, as the CDTC bills the this trail is an understatement. The hashtag #bravethecdt and #embracethebrutality is the only way to succeed on this trek. But for all my “complaining” I can tell you without a doubt, it has been totally worth it. It IS a #brutiful trail and experience. Going southbound has saved the best for last…New Mexico.

Piles of river rock emerged from sparse golden vegetation almost in a hedge like form. Its attempt to “hide” evidence of the tailings from vast mining operations failing miserably. Our trail led us to a parking lot near a well stocked “lake” and the day’s trail magic. Our water source was to be the lake, but Lorenzo and Anya from Albuquerque (and their two kids) changed that.

They offered us water and shared their adult beverages with us. We talked all things New Mexico. They beamed with pride as we related how diverse and beautiful we have found New Mexico to be. We talked history with their kids, and trail life. They told us of what more we had to look forward to and enjoy as we continue our southbound trek through their wonderful state. It was a beautiful Sunday morning encounter. After well over an hour of conversation, we made our way back to the trail…and promptly got lost. (So many social trails) Rather than do our “usual” bushwhack back to trail, we retraced our steps and found where we had failed to make a “hard left”.

Once back on trail we paid particular attention to staying on the “redline” until it began to weave in a useless and frustrating serpentine manner. Looking at our alternate maps, we reverted to the “old CDT” route that followed a near perfectly straight, or rather direct route, via a cobbled dirt road. This allowed us to make better “time” whilst being “chased” by a dark and threatening storm. Our destination for the day was the Rancherilla Spring and the beginning of the Ghost Ranch Alternate. We camped in a small clearing nearby, to the annoyance of the resident cattle.

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Chama, NM


While Chama is a CDT “gateway community”, and it’s “historic district” is quaint, it still appears to be a town on “life support”. In all, it is a 2.6 square mile Village. We walked most of its entirety. From what we could see, there is not much reason or draw to Chama, unless you are a steam-driven narrow gauge heritage railway train buff, a thru-hiker, an elk hunter, or fisherman. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is the only “living” remnant of an economy that once thrived on lumbering.

Al Unser Jr. lives nearby and built a magnificent candy shop for his wife to run, and a new restaurant/bar for him to frequent, but the Village of Chama still appears struggling to survive. No doubt, it’s inhabitants are hearty and our encounters with the locals found them to be extremely kind. Covid, I’m told, was the final nail in the coffin for a good number of the small businesses and restaurants that were already on the “ropes”. For us, this meant there were limited places to find and consume fresh food, as well as affordable places to stay. As far as “fresh” food consumption, the Chama Grill and Fiona’s were our go to places. The Chama Grill was open toward the late afternoon/evening with tasty burgers and tamales. Fiona’s had (and has) the BEST breakfast burritos and giant calorie dense cinnamon rolls. She obviously knows what hikers crave!

When we walked into The Hotel Shops for a room for the night, they were full up. They did however, call and find us a room at the Cumbres Suites, that was “just a couple blocks down the road”. It was a MILE. It was well worth the mile walk. The place was just what we needed. Terri and Kip are great people. She did our laundry and their continental breakfast was available all day. WiFi was fast and they had a covered patio to hang out at. They even gave us a ride back to the trail, when The Hotel Shops ride fell through.

Two other sets of CDT SOBO hikers were also staying at the hotel. Pete’s Dragon, Bags, Rooster and Woodchuck. I later discovered that Rooster was being a “Trail Correspondent” for The Trek’s Backpacker Radio. We talked at length with Rooster and Woodchuck, a young husband and wife team. Turns out that they had camped just above us, under the dead trees, at Blue Lake. We shared stories and compared “notes” on the trail. While they are younger and can stomp out more daily miles, our observations, “wow” moments, and “annoyances” about the CDT/trail were quite similar.

Chama not only provided us with rest for our weary feet and bodies, but it also allowed us to finally check one of our desired wildlife sightings. It was while standing in the drive-thru lane with Rooster and Woodchuck, at the Chama Grill, that we saw our first, and only, bull elk. In fact behind the restaurant, in a field by the private property stream, there was and entire herd of them. Go figure.

After a full days rest and a run to the Post Office to mail a resupply to Ghost Ranch, it was time to get back on trail and FULLY out of Colorado. While we zero’d and resupplied in Chama NM, we still had 3 more miles before the actual Colorado/New Mexico border…on trail.

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CDT: Elwood Pass – Cumbres Pass

9/17: 10 mi (Elwood Pass Alt)

We got dropped at the Family Dollar to add a few more snacks, so that we could get all the way to Chama, NM.

Mountain Pizza. Unfortunately their sample beer “by ounce” was broken, so only pizza and soda was consumed

Once shopping was done, we lunched at the Pizza joint next door. Our intent upon ordering the XL pizza, was to take half of it with us for snack/dinner. Before we knew it, we ate the ENTIRE pizza. We even considered squirreling away 4 perfectly good slices of pizza left on the table next to us, by patrons who had left it for the busboy to clear. “Hiker Hunger” is that strong! With our manners and personal integrity successfully over-riding our very real and sustained “Hiker Hunger” , we collected our packs and walked to the edge of the busy Hwy 160. It too was too dangerous for us to feel comfortable walking it, as well. From here we would try for a hitch to Park Creek Rd (a dirt road), and then walk the remainder of the “blue line”/Elwood Pass Alt.

As Paul dug out our “CDT hikers to Trail” sign, we wondered how long this hitch was going to take. Paul looked at his watch. “12:26”, he said. Less than 30 seconds later, a truck pulled up and asked us if we wanted a ride. He hadn’t even fully unfurled the sign.

I do believe that is a personal record for us. Turns out, these wonderful people (I believe also out of Pueblo Colorado, and for some damn reason I can’t remember their names…sorry, my CRS is getting worse) were seated behind us in the pizza parlor. They saw our packs and figured we were CDT hikers. They had decided that if we needed a ride they would give us one. They were waiting for us to leave the pizza parlor. Thank goodness we didn’t take the “abandoned” pizza slices. It probably would have nixed that ride.

They offered to take us all the way up to Elwood Pass, but we declined. We had already cut off a big chunk, and didn’t feel good about cutting off anymore. We also were not concerned about our safety along this particular road walk.

This route would climb, gradually from 8,477 ft to Elwood Pass at 11,644 ft, over the next 18.5 miles. In what was supposed to be a “nero”, we walked 10.3 miles. It was nice to be warm for a change. Trucks and trailers toting Elk Hunters filled the plethora of available campsites and spaces. I dare say that this was easily the most people we had seen (on trail) since we started this adventure. That night we had our BEST trail dinner ever!

Southwest Salad tuna wraps. I don’t know why we hadn’t done that sooner. Maybe it was because most of our resupply stores didn’t sell bag salads. But they did sell Jumbo HoneyBuns!

9/18: 16.7 mi (10.3-18.3/Elwood Pass Alt + 2145.4 – 2154.1/”redline”)

After a comfortably “warm” night’s sleep, and a chilly, but not frigid morning, we hoofed it the rest of the way toward Elwood Pass (11,644 ft). We expected the road to be like a freeway, with elk hunters scurrying to their hunting spots at the wee hours of the morning. Surprisingly, there was virtually NO traffic till later in the morning. And, even then it was fairly sparse. When we got to the pass, a couple was unknowingly seated at the CDT trailhead. They had stopped their ATV for lunch.

We talked with them for quite awhile. They offered us lunch and water. As we were low on water, how could we resist? A freshly made sandwich didn’t hurt either.

It was nice to get back onto a single track. I don’t know why, but we were surprised by the continual elevation we were gaining.

We looked in the near distance, wondering where the trail would wind us.

Surely it wouldn’t take us over those exposed mountains with the growing black clouds behind them. Silly thru-hikers, it’s the CDT! Of course it would!

With the wind blasting us in our faces, we found ourselves up and “over” five passes:

  • 12,160 ft
  • 12,467 ft
  • 12,430 ft
  • 12,414 ft
  • 12,603 ft

What the hell?  I don’t know why we thought we would continue to stay in the 10-11,000 ft. range. I think we thought, mistakenly, because we had NOT taken the “high route”, that we would now essentially be headed “downhill”, and were “out” of the San Juans. Little did we know that there was a place called the South San Juan Wilderness. It’s the slightly “shorter” brother to the San Juan “redline”, but packs ALL the challenges, and beauty that we thought we were putting aside to hike next season…at our leisure in warmer weather.

Once again, we should have known better. Too late now. All we can do is laugh, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and enjoy the stunning views.

We made it to our water source and intended campsite just as the weather was about to turn completely sour.

What you don’t see is the black cloud behind the tent

That night, the integrity of our Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 would be severely tested. Fully cognizant of the irony of our situation, the black cloud(s) and freezing weather we were trying to avoid, attacked us from all directions. Our tent bucked in the wind. Rain and hail pounded against our fly ALL NIGHT! We would not be surprised if we woke up to snow. For a very brief moment, the rain and wind stopped long enough for us to escape and empty our swollen bladders. This was because the cloud itself, had decided to park itself, and take a “breather”, directly upon on. Our headlamps nearly blinded us as the light bounced off the thick white mass that surrounded us, as we exited our tent.

9/19: 14.9 mi (2154.1 – 2169)

I awoke around 2am with what I thought was a headlamp beaming into our tent. Nope. The clouds had cleared and the moon was shining upon like a searchlight. I guess that’s good? There was hope for a dry morning. No sooner did I settle back to sleep, the clouds returned and delivered another dose of rain.

By 7 am the rain had stopped. Only problem, we couldn’t see the trail. We were trapped by a “resting” cloud.

Another hour later, it had cleared enough for us to safely find the trail. Of course it started raining again, once fully committed to hiking, and headed downhill into a valley.

Our biggest concern was being on an exposed ridge, if thunder and lightning decided to join in on the day. We had three passes to cross, all above 12,000 ft (12,021/12150/12128).

At infrequent intervals, the low clouds would part, revealing, if but for a moment, the colorful splendor of the trail we were traversing. While working my way up to the second pass, I decided to use this incessant wind to my advantage, letting the wind push me straight up the mountainside, rather than use the switchbacks.

The wind however, was inescapable. It cut through everything but our rain gear. So, even when the clouds finally parted, and the sun shone brightly, we continued to wear our rain gear, and practically ever other clothing item we had. It was that cold. We were firmly in the South San Juans. It was everything everyone crowed about, as it pertained to the San Juan “high route”. The beauty of this section was on a completely different and somewhat indescribable level. It touched our very souls. It was a shame to not be able to drink it all in at length.

However, with miles to go, and the constant roaring of the wind we could not linger. The last time we experienced wind like this was on the PCT out of Tehachapi, but this was more ferocious. The unrelenting sound was like standing behind a jet engine on a runway. It was driving us INSANE. On more than one occasion (four to be exact), I got blown off my feet, and slammed to the ground, by an unexpected and forceful gust of bone chilling wind. Winter was coming.

Based upon our late start, our destination was going to be Blue Lake. It was fabled to have plentiful places to camp. While it did, they were all under obviously dead trees, and the wind had NOT abated. No way on God’s green earth were we going to get this far on the CDT only to be crushed by a tree in the middle of the night. It took us quite a bit of time to find a spot we felt we had reasonable chance of surviving.

9/20: 16.5 mi (2169 – 2185.5)

The wind had changed overnight. It was still gusty, but it did not affect our tent. The morning was brisk, which required coffee “in bed”. The elevation profile showed our route to be mostly “flat” with only two significant climbs for the day. The last of Colorado we gleefully surmised. It was here that we now understood the remark that had made to us by a NOBO hiker just before we began the approach to the Park View Lookout, so many miles ago. “I can’t fucking wait to get out of Colorado”, he said. Yup. We can’t wait to get out of Colorado. We are tired of climbing and being buffeted by bone chilling wind. Don’t get me wrong, the views have been magnificent and grand, soul stirring even. But, they weren’t “free”. You had to “earn” them. We were worn out, and we still had another whole state to go!

We traversed a vast mesa, that gave the impression we were on the prairies of South Dakota, but at 12,000 ft. Dry grass bent and rustled in the constant wind.

Bleached white clouds in wisps and fluffy clusters accented the brilliant blue sky as they travelled above us while we walked. The plentiful “flag” trees told us that the wind here is constant. We couldn’t imaging having to walk this in a field of snow whilst NOBO on this trail. NOBOs you have our utmost respect. You are certainly crazier than we are. Needless to say, we were glad we had been relegated to a Southern route of the CDT.

In addition to the views, wind, rocks and climbs, Colorado had one more endearing memory to create. It decided to withhold its plentiful water for these last 20+ miles. We would have to camel up and carry 3 liters into camp.

To get said water at the last possible place, for the shortest carry, we filtered from a marshy pond a few 10ths of a mile off trail.

As we made our “last” climb out of the South San Juan Wilderness, the wind ceased as we reached yet another mesa with jaw dropping views.

By the time we reached the “Rock Bivy” and the borderline of the South San Juan Wilderness, the wind returned, but the edge of the mesa revealed yet another rich and colorful roadless valley below.

One could get drunk with the beauty all around, but you’d freeze to death in the process…at least this time of the year.

We descended the mesa and camped 10 miles from where Hwy 17 meets the CDT.

It was a miracle that we found a spot somewhat protected from the ever constant wind. We dozed off knowing that this would be our last night spent in Colorado.

9/21: 9.8 mi (2185.5 – 2195.3)

We slept soundly and comfortably all night. I only had to get up once to pee. The sky was clear and the stars and the moon competed for my attention. Between that time and the time our alarm went off, the temperature had dropped significantly. Our breath was clearly visible and hung in the air. Ice crystals coated the inside of our fly.

Our water bottles were frozen, and so was our fuel. No sense getting up now. This cold required coffee to walk, and with under 10 miles till town, we could wait. After “melting” enough water for coffee, we were on our way. As we descended, we could see a lake, in the near distance. It’s edges appeared to be frozen. The cold was here to stay. Our timing was impeccable.

We had made it out of Colorado, without getting snowed on. New Mexico here we come!

We headed down to Hwy 17 (Cumbres Pass) and within 10 minutes we had a ride into Chama.

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Creede Cut-off Alt?

9/16-17: 15mi

So what was supposed to be the Creede alternate for us became somewhat convoluted. With five miles of dirt road walking left to get into Creede, a couple pulled over and asked us for directions. All we knew is that we were headed to Creede. They said that’s where they were heading but got turned around. We showed them our Guthook app and our route, and that helped them get their bearings. As they were headed into Creede, they asked us if we wanted a ride. Hmmm. Continue on a dusty hot road getting dusted by ATVs for another couple hours, or get in their car.

We got in their car. In some ways I wish we hadn’t, because we missed walking the narrow canyon into the historic town. Our “ride” took us on a wider route that went by the Last Chance Mine they had just visited, as well as the outskirts of town with a newer housing development.

I think that when we do the San Juan High Route, next year or so, we will be sure to finish in Creede, having taken the full walk into downtown.

They did however deliver us to the start of the town at the edge of the canyon. They even offered to take us to South Fork, if we needed. 

Sherri and Tom, newlyweds from Pueblo Colorado

We thanked the newlyweds for the ride and looked for a place to eat. Tommy Knockers Tavern was highly recommended. Tommy Knockers it was. The fresh food, what they had left of, was good. Two PBRs later (“hiker trash” beer) lwe were off to find housing.

What we didn’t know was that old town Creede has very few hotel rooms. I believe 8 to be exact. And, as we were told by a proprietor, all the rooms are filled due to their annual classic car show, even though that wasn’t supposed to start for two days. We could always camp at the town’s baseball field we were told, or go to South Fork. So much for taking a zero in Creede and having a warm place to stay. It was supposed to get down to 22 that night. What was cool though is that the proprietor called a place he knew halfway between Creede and South Fork. They had a room. We took it. Now to get there. The proprietor offered up one of his employees, that graciously waited till we shopped for our resupply, in Creede, and while I bought a new hiking shirt at the local outfitters. My favorite Columbia PFG shirt was beyond repair. Fall had arrived. It was getting colder, and I needed actual working sleeves.

No amount of Tenacious Tape or thread was going to fix this

Turns out that our ride was a SOBO PCT “refugee”. He was more than happy to help out a fellow SOBO and to provide actual “trail magic”. He dropped us at the Blue Creek Lodge and RV Park. What an awesome place. Boy did we score! This is a place we will definitely revisit.

View from the upper balcony where we ate our dinner

Blue Creek Lodge and RV Park is family owned, and run. They used to run a popular restaurant, with a John Wayne theme room, but closed it 3 years ago, as it was just too much to operate, essentially by themselves.(The Lodge and RV park were more than enough to run, they told us.) Granny, however cooks a fabulous pie and breakfast Danishes…daily. Their hospitality was over the top. They allowed us full use of their kitchen, and access to any of the food and/or condiments in their commercial fridge. They even allowed us to do our laundry in their commercial washer/dryer. The following morning we joined the family and other guests for fresh coffee and Danishes. They were genuinely interested in our hike, and from what we could gather, had never really had SOBO hikers at their establishment. They were especially familiar with the early season NOBOs, and late season SOBOs road walking past their establishment. They’ve even been known to “rescue” a few during severe in-climate weather.

Up to this point we were still committed to completing the Creede Cut-Off, which in Guthook/FarOut is indicated as a “brown route”. This meant we had to get a ride back to Creede, to continue the remaining 28 miles of the Creede Cut-Off to where it re-connected with the “redline”. Once back on the “redline”, it would be another 81 miles to Cumbres Pass, and a hitch off Hwy 17 into Chama NM. While this route is “lower” than the “redline” through the San Juan “high route”, this still meant that we had to buy and carry even MORE food (7 days worth) to get us the 109 miles to Chama NM. Another option would have been to carry 5 days worth of food and hitch into South Fork from Wolf Creek Pass (a “hard” hitch), resupply and get back on trail. This would probably add another day, and the cost of another hotel.

We couldn’t help but notice the multiple mentions of South Fork, by our ride into Creede, the outfitters, and discussions with Bill (Blue Creek Lodge owner) that evening. What was it about the insistence of South Fork? This led to Paul discovering the “blue” Elwood Pass alt. It appeared to be a “common” route for the NOBOs to escape snow and nasty weather. We kept that route in the back of our mind, still determined to complete the Creede Cut-Off, back to the “redline”. We wondered aloud, if our “guardian angel” was pleading with us to go to South Fork and take the Elwood Pass alt. We imagine that he/she has been working quite a bit of overtime, and knew something we didn’t. But after conversation with the locals, the following morning, who were conversant in the coming weather, and more than once mentioned and recommended us just going to South Fork and taking the Elwood Pass Alt, we finally acquiesced. We can recognize a “sign”, when we see it, especially when it hits us in the face…continually. We’d also rather not spend the next two weeks in freezing temperatures, AND at mostly 10-11,000+ ft, with a heavy food carry. We were worn out, and our mileage was showing that. Heck, even my favorite shirt couldn’t cut it anymore and got “off trail”.

Because the “blue” 48 mile Elwood Pass Alt travelled 22 miles along the paved, narrow and practically shoulder less 2-lane Hwy 149, we decided that we should hitch into South Fork, and not walk from Creede. The fact that trucks and trailers towing beautiful classic cars rumbled past the Lodge with increasing frequency sealed the deal. As it turns out, no hitch was required. Our host arranged a ride for us. Another “sign” that we were to go to South Fork.

Posted in Backpacking, Colorado, Continental Divide Trail, thru-hiking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Monarch Pass to Creede

9/12: 15.4 mi (1914.9 – 1930.3)

We scheduled a ride from Debbie, Salida’s resident Trail Angel back up to Monarch Pass. Turns out, that as she was dropping us off, two more SOBOs needed a ride into Salida.

At the pass, there is a gondola that gives ride to the top for views of the area and it’s local Monarch Ski area.

A popular and BUSY trailhead

This particular trail head, and the corresponding 11+ miles of trail just happens to also be THE most popular mountain bike route in the country. It’s not too technical, has great views and nice downhills. We were told that van loads of cyclists get dropped off at hourly intervals, especially on the weekends.

Thankfully, Labor Day had already passed, otherwise I don’t know how a hiker could get anywhere on the trail. As it was, it was Sunday, and we had to step off the trail at regular intervals, hence our low mileage for the day.

The forecast for the day gave us a 3% chance of rain. It turned into 100%, for 40 minutes, just after we took a break for lunch.

Today we met a lot of displaced PCT hikers, whom we called PCT “refugees”. They were, for the most part, PCT SOBOs who had been kicked off the trail when they reached California, because of the fires. They all seemed to head over to the Colorado Trail, en mass, to keep their “trail legs”, in hopes California would “open” by the 17th. It was weird running into so many people in one day. Up to now, the “population” on the trail had been fairly sparse.

9/13: 21.2 mi (1930.3 – 1951.1)

We had a 12 mi and 8 mi water carry today. Luckily the air was crisp and cool for the first half of the day.

The tread was somewhat rocky, but also provided us with fruit salad…of sorts.

I was surprised by how many patches of strawberries, grouse berries and raspberries there were along the trail, this late in the season. This made for a somewhat “distracted” climb, which highly annoyed Paul.

Once again we passed nearly 10+ PCT “refugees” for the day.

Bow hunting season for elk was in full swing. Hunter’s camps punctuated the trail. Towards the end of the day we ran into two young bow hunters. They were hiking back up to their camp, after having packed out an elk the previous day. They asked us questions about the CDT, and had aspirations of thru-hiking a long trail. We told them that their style of hunting would make them easy candidates for a thru-hike.

The end of the day found us arriving later than we preferred (7pm) into camp, but it was thankfully much warmer than our day had started.

9/14: 18.4 mi (1951.1 – 1969.5)

On our way to camp, the evening prior, the water sources up to that point were dry. This made for an 8mile morning hike to water, and an 11am coffee break. Once again we met several PCT “refugees” who were not entirely excited about their pending uphill climb of the CT/CDT. They were complaining about how “rocky” and steep the trail had been so far. “If you think this is bad, wait till you’re JUST on the CDT”, we told them. “This is pretty nice trail tread, namely because it’s also the Colorado Trail”.

They laughed and reluctantly packed up, and began to trudge up the dirt road that ran through a logging area.

We made our intended miles by 5 pm, and, in-between were treated to some trail magic from “String Bean”. He had completed the CT via mountain bike and was parked on the trail/road with his truck handing out beer, soda and snacks. As no one was really choosing the beer, we obliged String Bean and drank a few while we talked and shared stories. Needless to say we rejoined the trail, VERY happy, and with uncomfortably full bladders.

Rather than continue on till our “normal” stopping time, we decided to camp at the first perfectly flat spot we could find, rather than start a climb that may result in a less than desirable spot.

9/15: 22.1 mi (1969.5 – 1991.6)

A little brisk for the morning, with some frost on the vegetation. Jackets and gloves were necessary, as well as an equally brisk pace. After an easy climb, the trail followed a long meadow along a two track road. Once we found full sun, we stopped for coffee and breakfast.

Today was a colorful treat. The Aspens mixed in with the mountainside’s pine forests were now changing color. Golden yellow was the norm with patches of deep red and orange begining to show. One Aspen sported a range of color that reminded us of a “Big Stick” popsicle.

We walked through groves of Aspen that towered over us and littered the ground with discarded yellow leaves.

We had never seen such a show of color, and knew that over the next few weeks would only get better. This, sadly, meant that Fall was here and Winter was coming to Colorado. We needed to pick up our pace even more in order to get out of Colorado before it snowed on us.

The trail continued through a narrow valley with a picturesque crooked river with two guys fly fishing along it’s banks. It was like being in a Field and Stream magazine.

We lunched at the river’s edge and cooled out hot and swollen feet. Lots of mile to be made to day. The terrain demanded it. It was not really that hard.

We got stalled for nearly an hour by cowboys rounding up a wayward and cantankerous herd of cattle. It was amazing to see the cowboys, their horses and dogs work.

More and more PCT “refugees” passed toward the end of our day. “You’ve got big climbs ahead of you”, they cautioned us with a smirk, believing that we were “weekenders”. “Right back at ya”, we replied.

As the sun began to set under the hill behind us, we set up camp. It was going to be a cold night, no doubt about it.

9/16: 14 mi? (1991.6 – Creede)

The morning started out bitter cold. We wore everything we had, and were still cold. It didn’t help that the wind was a little brisk AND we had close to a 2,000 ft climb over two saddles (12674 ft/12374 ft) on our way to the Creede Cut-off, for resupply.

Headed to our first saddle

While cold, the route was beautiful. Fall was definitely in the air. Colors were brilliant.

We had breakfast at the first saddle and marveled at the view. We watched as an unsuspecting deer made its way up and over the saddle.

We were in thralled by the hoo-doo type rock structures that towered above us as we made our way down and toward our next saddle.

The next saddle was just as breathtaking both in views and climb.

When we got to the Creede Cut-off, we had a decision to make. Do we resupply in Creede and head back out and try our luck at the San Juan High Route, or do we continue on the remainder of the Creede Cut-off. We are fully aware that this particular section (San Juan High Route) is the “highlight” of Colorado. We considered our luck, and the approaching weather. We really didn’t have a week to spend at over 13,000 ft with the current weather forecast. We opted to take the lower Creede Cut-off alternate, and revisit the San Juans, say late August, of another year, and hike it at our leisure.

Down towards Creede we shuffled. The route itself is beautiful, and water was practically everywhere.

Cars and ATVs dusted us at regular intervals.

An active mine loomed to our left.

Our intent was to walk all the way into the small town of Creede.

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Twin Lakes to Monarch Pass

9/7: 20.3 mi (1825.7 – 1846)

We didn’t have very far to go to get into Twin Lakes for our resupply, but we packed up quickly and decided to have breakfast along the way.

We stopped at a beaver pond and had our coffee and Jumbo HoneyBun. An array of gnawed trees surrounded us. We marveled at the ingenuity of the beavers. A young buck, still in velvet stared from the far edge of the pond, hoping we weren’t hunters.

With much lighter packs, having eaten everything that was edible in our packs, we made a left turn onto the Twin Lakes trailhead. In no time we were at the small town’s edge only to find, that for the most part, the town was, for all practical purposes, closed.

We had arrived the morning after Labor Day Monday. Summer was officially “over” in these parts, and the coffee place, burrito food truck, and country store were closed! The store actually had a sign that they wouldn’t be open till noon, and the restaurant till 4 pm. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that last snack!

As it was 9am, there was only one thing we could do. Wait. We were however, able to charge our electronics at an outdoor outlet in front of the closed visitor center while we waited.

Once the store opened, we collected our resupply and had a beer. While we were organizing our stuff, “Popeye” and “Olive Oil” arrived to collect their resupply. We chatted for some time. They were going to hitch into Leadville and ship some stuff home, before continuing on trail. We bid them farewell and continued on trail.

Rather than “needlessly” walk around the lake as per the “redline”, we decided to cross the river and meet up with the trail on the other side of the lake. Once at the trail junction, it was time to climb. We had had a four hour “rest”, so a 3235ft climb over 3.8 miles should be “do-able”…before dark.

Hope Pass (12,532 ft) w/ Twin Lakes in the background

While we made the climb to Hope Pass (12,532 ft) in just over an hour,(compared to the 3 hours it took to make a similar elevation gain summiting Gray’s Peak) we almost bit off more than we could chew. We did however, make it to our intended campsite with enough light to set up our tent…but not to eat. That required our headlamps.

9/8: 17.4 mi (1847 – 1863.4)

With the plethora of steep ascents and descents, that the CDT in Colorado requires, my right calf and left hamstring were beginning to become problematic. We decided to take an alternate, and hike on a road that was about 2/10ths off trail, but generally paralleled the trail for several miles.

So, descending and walking on a relatively “flat” surface as opposed to constant up/down and adjusting to trail impediments became the solution.

Along the way we came upon several mining camps and were treated to a bull moose sighting. We watched in awe as he fed and thrashed about the bushes trying to rub off the felt of his massive rack.

Today’s climb would be past Anne Lake and up and over Anne Pass.

Another bonus of taking the dirt road, was that it led us into the historic mining town of Winfield.

In it’s “hey day” it sported 1500 residents 3 saloons, 3 stores, 2 hotels, boarding house, a post office, a church, and a school.  It’s now more of a ghost town, with some buildings restored by the historical society.

As we traveled upon our alternate route, we couldn’t help but notice signs identifying our route as the CT/CDT. I do believe we were on the “old” route. Perfect! This route took us through a long meadow, with many camping opportunities. It appeared to be a popular area to camp and set up hunting camps.

After lunch and a nap by a rushing stream, we began our final assault on Anne Pass (12,645 ft.).

1500 ft over 1.5 miles, and 1.5 hours later, we reached the top.

Not a breath of wind. Time for a snack.

The descent was pleasant, as the trail was well maintained and fairly free of tripping “opportunities”. As we made our way down to treeline, we saw another cow moose fairly close to the trail. She didn’t seem to care that we were so close, and continued to graze.

Can you find her?

In all, the day was a pleasant one, considering the pain I started the day with. We ended the day camped next to a creek, and watched deer weaving their way through the forest till it was time to rehydrate our dinners.

9/9: 19.1 mi (1863.4 – mile 17 Mirror Lake Alt) Also known as lower (East) Collegiate route

From our camp spot the previous night, we descended to the junction of the Colligate route(s). The next few days were supposed to completely clear, and relatively hot. Because the “high” East Colligate route traveled over 12,000-13,000 ft, and was a practically waterless exposed ridgeline, we elected to travel a less exposed route, with plentiful water. The “lower”/West Collegiate route.

And because we often like the challenge of “short cuts”, we forded a river and bushwhacked a mile through scratchy brush to cut off 3 miles of easy walking. We intersected the trail, just as it started to climb.

It was initially a mild climb through a forested area, until it turned into a multi-use trail, complete with a horde of dirt bikes.

These bikes chewed up the trail so bad it left us little, short of ruts and rocks, upon which to tread. One motorbike (rider) actually lost his balance negotiating the maze of rocks and fell, bike and all, on Paul as we lunched on the far edge of the trail.

After lunch, the trail continued to climb. It was dusty, hot, over 84°, and breeze less. We could only imagine how hot it must have been on the EAST Route without shade and water to mitigate the conditions.

Evidence of micro storms that brought destructive winds were piled high on either side of the trail. The trail crews that cleared this portion of the trail, certainly had their work cut out for them…pun intended.

Mirror Lake down below

After climbing up to an exposed ridge at 12,386 ft, the trail dropped down sharply to Mirror Lake. To say that those 3 miles was pleasant would be an utter lie. Motorbikes and ATVs had chewed this route up as well.

We camped at the far end of Mirror Lake. Tin Cup Pass could wait till tomorrow.

9/10: 17.6 mi (mile 5 – 1900.4)

What a difference a day makes! It was a brilliant day. The climb up to Tin Cup Pass was fairly mild.

Tin Cup Pass is on the actual Continental Divide. This is where the water that flows from one side of pass travels toward the Pacific, while water from the other side travels toward the Gulf and/or Atlantic.

To my left, it flows to Pacific. To my right, it flows to the Atlantic

It is here that we enjoyed a cup of coffee and our morning “staple”, 710 calorie, Jumbo Frosted HoneyBun.

While reconnecting with the CDT, below Tin Cup Pass, we talked with Wayne. Wayne, who was in in his 70’s had just completed the route from here to Durango. He gave us great intel on what to expect over the next 300 miles, AND supplied us with some additional trail magic, in the form of snacks.

The trail weaved over wide open spaces above treeline, till it dropped down onto the remains of an old rail line, who’s tracks have since been removed.

At times though, you could see remnants of the railroad ties imbedded in the soil.

After our final 600 ft climb of the day, up and over 12,200 ft we searched in vain for a suitable place to pitch our tent. We settled for a lumpy meadow, which sent the local deer scurrying, and quite annoyed with us.

9/11: 5.4 mi (Alt to Monarch Pass) Hitch into Salida

As we were low on food (actually we were out of food… one snack left, each), we took an alternate to Monarch Pass. A hearty breakfast at the Monarch Lodge was calling, and we were determined to answer that call! I’ve got to say, this place was amazing. Carl our server, and I believe also our chef, was super. Great guy! A true hike breakfast if there ever was one. Especially if one has reached the pinnacle of “hiker hunger”, like we had. If it were not for our discipline, and need to have food for each day on trail, we could easily eat the entire contents of our food bag, usually by day two, after a resupply.

While gorging ourselves we made reservations at a hotel in Salida. We actually got their last room. Apparently it was Salida’s annual Fiber Festival. After a relatively easy hitch into Salida, we did our best to graze through the town’s recommended dining and beverage establishments.

Funny thing, we actually saw more mule deer bucks in town than we had so far on trail.

While shopping and packing up for our resupply, we ran into the Wander Women (YouTube channel), who were hiking the Colligate route while waiting for California to reopen the PCT because of fires. We had met them last year,on the CDT, in Dubois Wyoming.

After a quick load of laundry, we caught Saturday evening Mass, and gorged ourselves some more, and then prepped to get back on trail the following morning.

Posted in Backpacking, Colorado, Continental Divide Trail, thru-hiking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments